February 2, 2023

Artist to Watch


Portrait of Kevin Claiborne. Photo by Gioconarlo Valentine.

NB: Can you tell us what are some of your earliest memories of art and how do they relate to where you’re at with your practice today? 

KC: I believe my earliest memories of art were that my family had an Ernie Barnes print in our living room at home and I think it was the Sugar Shack painting. Also, I was always a doodler when I was a kid, and I remember I would get in trouble a lot for drawing in class. I think I’ve always been creative and drawn to art although I didn’t really go to art galleries or anything like that when I was younger, but I’ve always been interested in art making in some capacity. Actually my father, he was a photographer on the side, but as a kid I didn’t view that as an art form, just for documentation. It wasn’t until I started learning and I taught myself how to do film photography that I realized it had such power to be used for art. Once I started practicing, I got more into it and eventually developed my own conceptual practice. 

NB: Your work and writings are characterized by themes of mental health, identity and trauma. Can you tell us more about how you approach these topics? 

KC: Through my writing I always try to maintain a certain level of honesty, transparency and introspection. After going through a lot of mental health issues myself, a few years ago I realized that writing was one of the best ways to deal with and understand those issues and concerns. Also making work about something that I’ve personally experienced helps me understand more about myself. After speaking to my mother recently about mental health struggles that she also dealt with, I started to learn more about how these things can be cyclical and repetitive within my own family and within my friends’ families. I try to use that in my work and writing as a tool to understand why these patterns continue to reoccur as I search for solutions to break those patterns. I also have a background in math and one thing you learn in math is that almost everything can be broken down into some sort of pattern. I’ve always been a logical thinker looking for patterns, but art is a creative way to isolate patterns and change your understanding around certain issues. Art making also helps develop your understanding of yourself in relation to those issues, whether on a social micro level or a macro, wider level. 

Kevin Claiborne, UNDERSTAND ME, 2022. Silkscreen on wood panel 48” x 60”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: Given the wide range of disciplines within your practice, video, collage, sculpture, writing, photography, silkscreen painting, how do you determine which medium to work with next? Do you think different mediums apply to different concepts? 

KC: Absolutely. I love working in multiple mediums because I feel like it allows me a level of freedom that I believe all artists should give to themselves. I don’t think any artist should be boxed into one medium or mode of making. I think you should definitely take the time to master at least one, yet I think it’s more beneficial and advantageous to your practice if you try to do things that you’re not an expert in because you end up learning new techniques or approaches to your main mode of making. I also don’t like limiting my approach to the one that I’m strong in, because you don’t always know the one you’re the strongest in (you might think you know, but you don’t always know). 

That’s why I try to work with the idea first, the medium second. If I work that way, then it gives the idea more space to evolve beyond me constricting the idea into a box of “this idea has to be a photo, or a painting, or this idea has to be a sculpture” If I just say this is the idea and then allow that idea to tell me how to present it or not present it then I think the idea gets to live longer in a better way.

Kevin Claiborne, DEVOURED, 2022. Silkscreen ink on paper 17” x 11”. Image courtesy of the artist.

NB: So what are some artists or people that you admire or that you’re looking at right now? 

KC: I’ve also been listening to a lot of Gil Scott Heron, his spoken word and older albums and looking at the artwork of Tomashi Jackson and Torkwase Dyson. Those are probably the only two as of this week, because it’s ever changing and there’s way too many talented people to keep track of. I try not to get too caught up in what other artists are doing because it may be distracting, although I think it’s a good thing that nowadays we can see what people are doing through social media – what they’re doing within their own practices and if they’re taking risks.

Kevin Claiborne, TIME WILL TELL, 2022. Archival inkjet print 24” x 18”. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: So can you tell us about your most recent exhibition, Understand Me at Osmos Gallery and the group show Dark Matter at Kates-Ferri Projects? 

KC: The solo show at OSMOS consists of photo collage and paintings. The series of paintings are titled The Unconformity Series, and they’re inspired by the Great Unconformity which is a missing chunk of sediment in the Earth’s crust about 100 million years to 1 billion years long. The image and text works in the show consist of found imagery from my family archive and from books that I own referencing West African sculpture and art. It’s a show about fragmentation of identity, it’s about lost history, and it’s about reclaiming or recreating one’s personal and historical and familial narrative. The Dark Matter show at Kates-Ferri Projects is about how dark matter exists in space, but it’s not something that can be observed and the group show takes a bunch of different approaches to documenting or creating that which cannot be observed or captured. The works that I have in the show are one of the Unconformity paintings and one collage, a piece of abstraction with a piece of fragmentation. I love how the show came together, there’s a lot of variety within the works and mediums, and how people are using those mediums in unconventional ways.

Kevin Claiborne, I PROMISE TO BE, 2022. Acrylic on paper 30” x 23”. Image courtesy of the artist. 

NB: So lastly, what are some projects that you’re excited about in the future?

KC: I’m working on a solo show that will be in Sweden this year at Public Service gallery in Stockholm and working on a group show in New York for June. Personally, I am trying to use more of my writing within my work. I’m really interested in trying to figure out different ways that my writing, my language, and words can exist within my work, and trying to step outside of my comfort zone when it comes to the way in which I use my text and poetry and the word itself.